A 66-year-old man described as “one of the good guys” has admitted that a moment of inattention killed his wife of 45 years in a crash on State Highway 1 near Cheviot.
Malcolm Ralph Mehlhopt, of New Brighton, pleaded guilty in the Christchurch District Court to a charge of careless driving causing the death of Caroline Ruth Mehlhopt last November.
The single-car crash killed Mrs Mehlhopt – mother of their two sons – at the scene. The death notice described her as the “beloved wife and best friend of Malcolm”.
As he imposed sentence, Judge Tom Gilbert told Malcolm Mehlhopt: “The reality is that there is nothing I can do which even comes close to approaching what you have done to yourself.”
He disqualified Mehlhopt from driving for six months, and ordered him to make a $1000 donation to a road safety or emergency services charity, but imposed no other penalty.
Defence counsel Gerard Thwaites had argued that no punitive sentence needed to be imposed.
Police prosecutor Sergeant Dave Murray said Mehlhopt was driving south in an open road area near Cheviot when the car failed to take a bend because of a moment’s inattention. It veered off into the grass verge where it travelled some distance before it dropped into a drainage ditch, crashed through a wire fence and rolled several times before coming to rest on its roof in a paddock.
When he was interviewed by police, Mehlhopt said the last thing he remembered was his wife calling out his name.
Judge Gilbert said he would disregard Mehlhopt’s one previous conviction – it was from 40 years ago.
The loss of Mrs Mehlhopt had been devastating for family and friends who were trying to support each other.
He told Mehlhopt: “I have read a number of references from people who have known you for longer than I have been alive, and they speak very highly of you as a person who has worked hard all your life, been a fantastic father to your two boys, and as a man who has enjoyed a loving relationship with your wife of some 45 years.”
Charities spoke of his work and his involvement with the local community where he had donated hundreds of hours of volunteer work, including to planting projects. One community worker described him as “one of the good guys”.